Small Talk May Feel Awkward, But It Can Also Be Life-Saving

Small talk is something many of us avoided even before the pandemic, and neither months of social distancing or the awkward return of socialising has made it easier – but it’s something that can still save lives.

That is the message from Samaritans, as the mental health charity and helpline relaunches its campaign to raise awareness about the role small talk can play in preventing suicide on the railways and in other public settings.

The ‘Small Talk Saves Lives’ campaign has run in partnership with Network Rail, British Transport Police and the rail industry since 2017. But as the UK steps out of lockdown, it is focusing on rebuilding public confidence to trust our gut and start conversations with anyone who looks as though they may need help.

Brits are known for being quite reserved, especially in public. We rarely go out of our way to speak to strangers and keep ourselves to ourselves. But engaging in the smallest of conversations – it could be as simple as asking “hello, what’s the time?” – may help interrupt someone’s suicidal thoughts, Samaritans says.

Handsome confident businessman on his way home from work. He is standing on the train station platform at sunset, waiting for his train.

The pandemic has had a huge impact on mental health – and while it may have made the idea of small talk more daunting, it has also made us value a sense of community.

Dom, who prefers not to give his surname, knows how important small talk can be. As a teenager, he was experiencing suicidal thoughts but was interrupted at a crucial moment by someone who used small talk to ask if he was ok.

“When I was 19 years old, I was struggling to cope and didn’t know where to turn,” he tells HuffPost UK. “I was on my way to university one day and found myself thinking about ending my life. A lady came over and started a conversation with me and when I heard her ask, “are you ok?” it instantly snapped me out of thinking about harming myself.”

Dom, who now works for Network Rail himself, says he’s supporting the ‘Small Talk Saves Lives’ campaign because it saved his.

“From my own experience, I know suicidal thoughts can be interrupted and it was the kindness behind the small talk that also made a difference to me,” he says. “That human connection made me feel seen.

Working in the railway sector for almost a decade, Dom has used small talk on several occasions when someone’s behaviour has concerned him.

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